There is a lot of tension when a race car comes into the pits. At race pace, anything can happen. The driver could come in an knock his men down like dominoes, he could drive into the wrong pitbox, the mechanics could send their driver out with three wheels on his wagon. Whilst this hasn’t always been the case with pitstops, these issues have become more predominant now refuelling is banned and teams realise track position could be gained by doing pitstops faster than the human eye can blink.
Today we saw a shining example of how a well orchestrated routine that is practiced numerous times throughout a race weekend, can go horribly wrong. Red Bull driver pulled into his pit box having shown good pace so far compared to his teammate Sebastien Vettel on lap 40, with the aim of undercutting the threat of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who was looking to take 4th place away from the Australian.
All looked good for the Red Bull crew, until one of their gunmen signalled the universal hand gesture for “Hey! The wheel isn’t fastened properly!” just as Riccardo pulled out of his pit box. He was just outside Force India pit lane before the team told him to stop, which meant he had to wait to be wheeled back to the garage by his team so they could secure it back on, as reversing back into the pit box would have meant an instant disqualification.
Once Riccardo got back to the box, the front jackman was a bit too rigorous when propping the car back up for the gunman to secure the wheel back in place, and broke one of the pylons on his front wing. Unbeknownst to Red Bull, they sent their driver back out to salvage what was left of such a promising drive, only to be denied once again when the front wing failed as Riccardo entered the backstright.
Normally at this stage with around ten laps to go a team would retire their driver in order to save the wear on the engine. However Red Bull continued with Riccardo for the next four laps before they retired him. From being within a shot of a podium position to parking up in the garage. To add insult to injury, Riccardo now has a ten-place grid penalty for Bahrain next weekend for the unsafe release, whilst the team was also reprimanded for not wearing protective headgear when retrieving his stricken car.
We spoke a lot last year when Mark Webber had the incident during the German Grand Prix, when he was released with only three wheels properly fastened and the fourth rolled off into the pit lane, taking out one of the FOM cameramen in the process. A couple of extra safety measures were put in place such as the aforementioned protective headgear rule, however a capped pitstop time limit was also discussed.
I’m not going to go into the whole discussion of should we have capped time limits on pitstops such as five or six seconds, but I do think – whilst they are harsh – Red Bull got the inevitable this afternoon for not thinking about what they are doing. Granted there isn’t much of a window in this business, but to employ a spotter or to have just an extra measure in place in order to ensure everything is secure before leaving the pits could have probably saved Riccardo’s race.